After going 14-2 last season during the regular season, the 2020 season ended with a disappointing performance in the Super Bowl for the Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers outplayed them all game and made Mahomes, who played injured, and company look rather foolish to boot. So, what can we expect from the reigning AFC Champs in the 2021 season? Can the offensive line protect Mahomes and give him the time needed to make plays. Does Clyde Edwards-Helaire take a step forward after an injury-plagued rookie season that started off well? Who becomes the number two WR now that Sammy Watkins is gone? Andy Reid finally got his taste for a ring a few seasons ago and the Chiefs should be in the running again this year.
All the talk in the 2020 offseason was Mahomes' 10 year, $503M extension. Other than winning the main prize at the end of the year, Mahomes put together another solid year, coming close to 5000 yards passing (4740) and throwing for 38 TDs. If he had played week 16 he very likely would have topped the 5000-yard mark and 40 TDs. He protected the ball well with only 6 INTs and 2 lost fumbles. These numbers put him as QB 4 to end the season in fantasy. With an extra game does anyone doubt that he could put together a 5000 yard, 40+ TD season? Is there really any more to say on arguably the best QB in football today? Let’s move on, we all know Mahomes is good!
Being a first-round pick, plus the opt-out by Damien Williams put a lot of high expectations on Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Many fantasy players took him in the first round of redraft leagues expecting a league winner. He started the year well, but not the game-breaker everyone expected, being stuffed on three straight goal-line carries by the Texans on September 10th probably didn’t help inspire much hope. On October 15th the Chiefs signed veteran RB Le’Veon Bell to help take some pressure off Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire finished the year with 13 games played, 181 attempts, 803 rushing yards, and 4 TDs to go along with 54 targets, 36 receptions, 297 yards, and 1 TD. The red zone and pass blocking were two areas that he struggled with and why Bell was likely brought in. Bell came in and played in 9 games and really didn’t do much of anything, 63 attempts for 254 yards and 2 TDs to go with 14 receptions (19 targets) and 99 receiving yards.
The Chiefs let Bell walk, but brought in veteran back Jerick Mckinnon. Mckinnon started the year strong for the 49ers before dealing with injuries on and off again. Charles Goldman of the USA Today quoted Mahomes saying “Mckinnon is a playmaker, that will be a big part of our offense.” He has been getting work with the first-team offense in camp, is the insurance for Edwards-Helaire, or does he get onto the field as a third-down playmaker? The Chiefs re-signed Darrel Williams, he showed he can contribute when he started two playoff games and tallied 135 yards, 1 TD on 28 carries. He should be mixed in, but would only likely get significant playing on early downs if an injury were to occur to Edwards-Helaire. Clyde should lead this backfield and everyone wants the back tied to Andy Ried, but don’t forget about Mckinnon late in your drafts, he showed enough last year with the 49ers that he might just be a thorn in the side of Edwards-Helaire owners.
Mahomes continues to heavily target his two favorite weapons in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, we can expect much the same to continue as long as all three stay healthy. All three played in 15 games last year, with all the starters getting rested in week 16. Hill had 1276 yards and 15 TDs on 87 receptions (135 targets), added to that was 13 rushes for 123 yards and 2 TDS. Kelce dominated from the TE spot yet again, with 1416 yards and 11 TDs on 101 receptions (145 targets).
The other three regulars were pretty even across the board, Watkins 421 yards 2 TDs on 37 receptions (55 targets) in 10 games, Damarcus Robinson 466 yards 3 TDs on 45 receptions (59 targets) in 16 games, and Mecole Hardman 560 yards 4TDs on 41 receptions (62 targets) in 16 games. That leads us back to the question in the opening paragraph, who becomes the number 2 WR? Hardman is leading the way through camp, but expect Robinson, Byron Pringle, and even fifth-round pick Cornell Powell to work in. Meaning if you are relying on a Hardman breakout in fantasy I wouldn’t hold your breath. Although we never saw a fully healthy Watkins play alongside the big two too often, there is a chance maybe Hardman holds his ADP spike.
The big offseason move for the Kansas City Chiefs came when they traded their first-round pick (31st overall), a third (94th overall), and a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for tackle Orlando Brown, a second-round pick (58th overall), and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Brown wanted a chance to start at left tackle like his father, but with Ronnie Stanley locking down that spot for the Ravens, Brown’s only chance was a trade, which he requested. The Chiefs continued the work to improve their offensive line that struggled with injuries and opt-outs last season. This offensive line will look completely different with potentially five new starters. They let both their starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwarts walk, Brown will take the left tackle spot and Lucas Niang who the Chiefs drafted in the 3rd round in 2020, who was the only rookie to opt-out for the season will battle Mike Remmers (returnee) to start on the right side. They threw a lot of money at ex-Patriot Joe Thuney to form a strong left side with Brown. They drafted center Creed Humphries in the second round, as well as guard Trey Smith in the sixth who will battle opt-out returnee Laurent Duvernay-Tardif for the RG spot. Can the new unit gel quickly and allow Mahomes the time to dominate?
Other notable offensive additions are fifth-round pick TE Noah Gray, who is making some noise in camp. Also, Michael Burton was brought in from the Saints to play FB, replacing Anthony Sherman.
One offensive stat that stuck out to me while researching, the Chiefs were 14th in red-zone percentages on offense, only scoring on 61% of red-zone chances. You would think a team with this amount of firepower could convert at a better rate, look for that number to improve in 2021 if the offensive line steps it up.
The defense is where things get really interesting, they ranked 32nd in red-zone stops. Allowing teams to score on 76.6% of drives that made it to the red zone. Also, ranking 17th in 3rd down efficiency. The only notable names joining the defense are second-round selection LB Nick Bolton, fourth-round selection EDGE Joshua Kaindoh, free agent signees DL Jareen Reed coming over from the Seahawks, and CB Mike Hughes from the Vikings. Both Reed and Hughes project to be starters, but will they be enough to help this defense improve at stopping drives and keeping teams from the endzone? Time will tell.
Not surprising the Chiefs have the highest win total odds according to vegasinsider.com at 12.5. They have a brutal start to the season with matchups against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Bills, and the Washington Football Teams defense in 5 of the first 6 games. Those first 2 games are tough matchups for an offensive line that is all new. Could this team get off to a slow start? Possibly, but if I was a betting man I’d have a hard time counting out the Chiefs in any game. Look for them to continue to make noise on offense and if that defense can tighten up things they should have no problem exceeding this win total.
(Photo Credit: AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)